Gardens help families cope with loss

People deal with grief in different ways. Some hold it inside and deal with it quietly. Others may be more open with their pain and allow others to help. While there are different ways of dealing with loss, there are also different ways to honor your loved one. 

Two families, with ties to Stevens County, have used gardens to remember and help deal with the loss of a child. Jerry and Vivian Heltemes of Morris lost their son Justin to cancer in 2001. Mike and Adelle Jacoby, former Morris residents, built a garden at the West Central Research and Outreach gardens, in memory of their son Jason who died by suicide in 2012. For these two families, the gardens are a way to remember, grieve and just sit quietly for a while.

Justin Heltemes

Justin was 16 years old in 1998 when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This is a type of cancer that starts in the lymph nodes. Justin had been having severe itching for several months and was taken to a dermatologist in Fargo. That doctor noticed an enlarged lymph node and sent him to have an x-ray. By the end of the day, he was on his way to Mayo Clinic in Rochester for more tests and where he was given his diagnosis.

Justin continued his sophomore year of high school while receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments at St. Paul Children’s Hospital.  Though unable to play Tiger baseball, he supported the team by keeping stats. He also continued to work part-time at Willie’s Supervalu. Things seemed to be going well. In March 1999 no cancer appeared on the scans. However, by Memorial Day he started to develop symptoms again. He returned to St. Paul Children’s Hospital where tests revealed the cancer had returned.  Justin again started treatment, which included apheresis and a stem cell rescue. Apheresis separates the blood into its various components while the donor is connected to a separation device.  In Justin’s case, his stem cells were removed and the remaining blood components returned to his body. Justin then received high-dose chemotherapy, making him highly susceptible to infection. His body was ultimately ‘rescued’ by the stem cells which had been removed. 

Justin’s friends were very important to him.  Through all of this, they were phenomenal – including him in watching Viking games, when having bonfires, playing cards, and supporting him by participating in Relay for Life.  He loved watching them play baseball, basketball, and football and attended as many sporting events as possible. 

Justin graduated in May 2001. He was looking forward to taking a couple of college classes in the fall.  During that summer he developed pneumonia which his body could not fight. He died on August 14, 2001 at the age of 19.

Over the years, Justin maintained an incredibly positive attitude. At the same time, he was realistic and occasionally talked to his parents about the possibility of his dying.  He did not want flowers at his funeral, preferring donations be given for cancer research. Vivian related this to a local florist who then encouraged people to give other types of memorials such as plants, trees, or garden decor.

An evergreen tree, given by Justin’s classmates, was planted at the high school.  Unfortunately, it met its demise during the windstorm of May 2022.  Vivian and Jerry are in the process of replacing it. 

As for the plants, they were over-wintered, and the idea of a memorial garden on their property took shape. They began by laying out hoses in a design on the yard. Their neighbor and local landscaper, Rollie Henrichs, tilled the spot on a day when Jerry was at work. He made some suggestions about the flow of the garden and when Jerry came home that night, the garden was much bigger than originally planned. Rollie and Vivian had joined it to an area of wildflowers she and Jerry had incorporated into the landscape several years earlier.

With the help of Ken Anderson of Lowry, the garden took form, with a meandering stone walking path, bushes and flowers of various heights, colors, textures, and smells.  Many of the plants are perennials but annuals are added for variety. One of the highlights is a small baseball field. The edges of the field are bordered with bats, the inside is grass, with two ‘teams’ of flowers around it.  The Tiger colors are represented with orange profusion zinnias.  The opposing team is in a contrasting color of zinnia.

Jerry and Vivian keep busy in the garden with weeding and deadheading. The paths need clearing of weeds and thyme which grow between the rocks. There is also regular watering.  As their daughter, Jocelyn, states, “It is a true labor of love.”

However, they also take time to sit on a bench in the garden and just think about their son. He loved the outdoors – hunting, snowmobiling, bonfires, and fireflies.  Jerry and Vivian remember him as they listen to the birds, smell the flowers, and watch the butterflies in the garden. 

They invite you to visit the garden which is on 464th Avenue just off 7th Street. You are welcome anytime as the garden is in the front yard and can be seen immediately upon driving in.  The garden is most beautiful from mid-July to mid-August.

Jason Jacoby

“Sometimes we need a quiet place to let our ‘Hearts’ remember” are the words on a sign at the Jacoby Meditation Garden located at the WCROC gardens. Mike and Adelle Jacoby of Hector, Minnesota built the garden in memory of their son Jason who died by suicide on June 26, 2012. He was 44 years old, married and had a daughter.

Mike and Adelle choose to have the garden in Morris because they have a history in this area. Mike grew up in Hancock and then started college at the University of Minnesota Morris. He transferred to North Dakota State University in 1962 and graduated with a pharmacy degree. While at NDSU he would come home to Hancock and give a ride to a girl from Morris. Through this he met Adelle, who was that girl’s roommate. They have now been married for 57 years. 

The couple first lived in Iowa and then moved to Morris when Jason was an infant. He grew up in Morris and attended school here through seventh grade. They lived in a neighborhood with a lot of kids so he had a lot of close friends here. While in Morris, Adelle enrolled at UMM, had a daughter, and finished her elementary teaching degree, graduating in 1972. The family lived in Morris for 13 years and then moved to Hector where Mike and Adelle purchased and operated a pharmacy until 2005.

At the time of his death, Jason was working for a large car dealership in the parts department. He loved the work but was laid off from the job. He was devastated by the lay off. He had been married for 20 years. His daughter, who was 16 years old and the apple of her daddy’s eye, found him hanging in a shed. She called her mother who told her to call her grandma. Mike and Adelle have not talked to their granddaughter since. To this day, they have never had an answer to why he took his life.

They also have a daughter, living in Canada with her husband and two children. They have not seen any family members since they lost their son in 2012. 

They decided to place the memorial garden in the WCROC garden so people could use it to help them remember someone they have lost. The grasses were chosen instead of flowers for a different effect. When you enter the garden, you can almost disappear and have quite solitude. When they were looking for a place for the garden, Steve Poppe suggested an area that had been used for rose research. They liked the size and decided to use this. The design was done by a nursery in Alexandria and it is very unusual in every aspect. Family type gardens are funded by the families and a reserve is held for future needs. 

Mike and Adelle named the garden Jacoby Meditation Garden and dedicated it to all who have lost a loved one. They wanted to include the word ‘suicide’ on the dedication sign but were told that it would not go over well. Their desire was to emphasize that depression and mental illness are a fact of life for far too many people. All ages and occupations are dealing with suicide including teenagers, policemen, military, and farmers.

Both couples have their own unique stories and reasons for creating the gardens. However, each garden has a common theme. They are a place to reflect and heal after a devastating loss.

Jerry and Vivian and Mike and Adele were featured on Pioneer Public TV Prairie Yard and Garden program on April 27, 2023.  Those interviews may be viewed at: or